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Book review
By John Linsenmeyer   - 04/21/2009

Greenwich Time

More Info on This Book: Bridgeport: 1900-1960

Travelling the Merritt Parkway
Larry Larned
Arcadia Publishing; $19.99, 128 pages.

William J. Clark
Arcadia Publishing; $19.99, 128 pages

Bridgeport: 1900-1960
Andrew Pehanick
Arcadia Publishing; $21,99, 127 pages.

The Trumbull Historical Society
Arcadia Publishing; $19.99, 128 pages.

No, I have neither purchased stock in, nor taken employ as a publicity person for, Arcadia, even though they are headquartered just outside Charleston, S.C., one of my favorite cities on the planet.

Rather, it is that "Spring is sprung, the grass is riz / A season for the day-trip is." We have the good fortune to live in a fairly interesting part of the world ourselves, and most of us tend not to see what is right around us until somebody points it out. A case in point is a book I read perhaps 30 years ago called "Gritty Cities," which described the architectural treasures in places then regarded as dumps, such as Hoboken, Norwich, Wilmington and our very own Bridgeport -- which was, and is, full of architecturally-interesting buildings like the Brightonesque brick apartments next to the Cathedral, or the Victorian houses of now-decrepit Iranistan Avenue. Of course, not all our local jewels are surrounded by dross, and that is the theme of several of today's "good stuff right around here" books.

When I was courting my bride, who then lived in Trumbull, and later moved here from Alexandria, a jewel of a road was the Merritt Parkway. Our first book, then, honors the highway built at the urging of nine-term Congressman Schuyler Merritt in the 1930s as an alternative to the narrow, congested Post Road (then the only east-west highway through the county). The first little stretch, built in Stratford, was so blah and uninspiring that a committee of Fairfield County bigwigs was formed to improve the aesthetics of the rest of the road. This neat little book "Travelling the Merritt Parkway" tells how well they succeeded, with a picture on virtually every page, town-by-town from here to Stratford. I said that we sometimes need books to point out neat stuff which we take for granted. If you only get this book for the portions on the Parkway's bridges -- many of the originals survive -- you'll enjoy your next ride a lot more.

Speaking of gritty cities, "Bridgeport 1900-1960" illustrates our historic county seat entirely through vintage postcards, arranged by categories such as transportation (including the fleet of passenger boats predating the Port Jefferson ferry), notable houses, the university, and even restaurants.

Some of those grand houses, such as 207 Grove St. and the 1852 mansion at 528 Clinton Ave. are still standing, as are some of the Remington Arms, hospital or commercial buildings, and restaurants our parents and grandparents liked. The next time business, or a visit to the city's museums, calls you to the east, take along this photo guide.

Adjoining Bridgeport to the north is "Trumbull." I added this guide because it's interesting, because my wife spent her teen-aged years there, and because I remember when it still had active farms including the Mallett place (now blessedly preserved as a handsome town golf course) next door to Christ Church, a beautiful old wooden structure also still an active parish. The athletically-inclined might think Trumbull is worth a trip just for the beautiful hike or a day's fly-fishing in the unspoiled valley of the Pequonnock River, now a public park.

Finally, we come to our very own Greenwich.

For a town founded in 1640 (quite a while, by American standards! Only 20 years after Plymouth Rock and 33 after Jamestown, Va.), we have lost a good bit of our history -- but a lot survives, or at any rate lasted long enough to be photographed. Curiously, Greenwich Avenue photographed from the northeast across the Post Road hasn't changed much in 70 years, and the old town hall, high schools (albeit put to different uses), and J. K. Tod's estate, minus the mansion. Even the Post Road bridge over the Byram River looks the same as it did in 1907. We live in a grand, and in some spots lovely, town and this nice book will help us to enjoy it even more.

Buy It Now: Bridgeport: 1900-1960 $21.99

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